After lifetime of travel, motorcyclist, photographer settles at Geneseo

Associate professor of communication Atsushi Tajima has worked in Geneseo longer than any other place—a resounding seven and a half years. Originally from Tokyo, Tajima attended an engineering college in Japan and subsequently got a job at a motorcycle manufacturing company. The company made racing motorcycles, so Tajima began racing. He was “okay” at his job, but had to quit after about five years due to a series of injuries.

After various blue-collar jobs such as professional welding, Tajima realized that his true interest was in humanities and social sciences and began applying to North American schools. Despite the switch, he recognizes the impact that manufacturing and industry had on his understanding of society.

His first North American experience was in Inukjak, Quebec, where he lived with Inuits for eight months through a Japanese program. He then attended the University of Alaska Anchorage, where he majored in journalism with a photographic focus.

“It’s just great. The nature is so dynamic and it’s such a dynamic place,” Tajima said of Alaska, where he plans to retire. While there, he spent his free time fishing for Alaskan salmon, obtaining a pilot’s license and pursuing photography.

Following graduation, he relocated to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication. His interest in journalism arose from the challenge of speaking English as a second language—when he enrolled at University of Alaska, he only had two words memorized: “however” and “paragraph.”

His interest in journalism also stemmed from the influence the media has on everyone’s thoughts.

“I am always interested in how much we learn from the media,” Tajima said. “People don’t really think about how much of their opinion is constructed by media and communication and that fascinates me.”

His interest in photography and journalism was also influenced by his uncle Yasushi Nagao, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in 1961 for his incredible shot depicting the assassination of Japanese politician Inejiro Asanuma. He was the first non-American to win the Pulitzer Prize.

One of the largest turning points in Tajima’s life, however, was his 1988 trip to the Soviet bloc. He visited countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and East Germany. Tajima noted that this trip made him realize how fortunate he was to have Japanese citizenship.

“It was such a powerful experience to see how political ideology influenced how people live,” Tajima said. “It was really an eye-opening experience to learn about inequality on a global scale and also how my privilege was invisible to me.” This trip also influenced his decision to transition from engineering to the social sciences.

He chose to become a professor after college, joking that he was “just too lazy to quit school.” In actuality, he chose to remain in academia because, as he said, “The more I studied, the more I realized how much I don’t know.”

Now as a professor, Tajima strives to emphasize to his students how lucky they are to be receiving an American education. He stresses the importance of independent research to his students and calls his COMN 368: Research in Media and Cultural Studies class “research boot camp.”

“You always have to think about how privileged you are,” he said.